It’s understandable if woefully misguided.
A new municipal election campaign is upon us. The current term of city council has left something of a vinegary taste in the mouths of many. Raucous. Dysfunctional. Divisive. Destructive. Counter-productive. Pick an adjective to describe the past 3 years at City Hall. Few of them are positive.
So in a desperate search for solutions, we lash out, grasping at straws. How do we fix this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into? As with all of life’s complex problems, there’s got to be an easy way out of this.
Hence we’re suddenly talking about term limits again. Upon registering her intention to run for re-election as councillor for Ward 32 Beaches-East York, first termer Mary Margaret McMahon vowed, if victorious this October, her second term in office would be her last. It was a pledge she apparently also made back in 2010 when she first ran for a council seat.
“I always tell people,” Councillor McMahon told the Toronto Star, “this is public service, it’s not a career.”
What happens if somebody is particularly good at being a politician? And I don’t mean that in the sense of playing at politics, being good at the game of politics. What’s wrong with somebody being good at the job of representing the public doing it as long as they want, as long as constituents continue to vote them back into office?
For me, term limits weirdly award bad behaviour. It is driven by the desire to rid public office of all the deadwood deadweight representatives we perceive to be clogging up the system and can’t seem to boot from office any other way. Help us before we re-elect this terrible politician again! We’re painting all politicians with the same brush.
It is a passive attempt to alleviate a dynamic problem of voter disengagement especially at the municipal level.
Ironically, in this case, it’s being pushed by a councillor who dumped a high profile, four term incumbent and outgoing speaker of council straight up. Trounced her, in fact. An ‘anomaly’, according to the Star, although Councillor McMahon was one of five challengers in 2010 to defeat incumbents. So please pay no attention to that particular working of the democratic process.
Both Councillor McMahon and the editorial in the Star calling for term limits insist they will promote diversity at council. More youth. More visible minorities. More women.
That would be great if true but I really would like to see their evidence.
Besides, I think there may be better, more active ways to try and increase engagement and involvement, starting with electoral reform like the ranked ballots initiative now sitting in limbo at Queen’s Park. Name recognition wouldn’t be such an overwhelming factor if voters, even those only passingly interested, had an opportunity to express their preference over, say, 3 candidates. You might take a flyer on a lesser known entity without fear of wasting your vote.
Even more so, you want to increase ethnic diversity on council? Extend the vote to permanent residents who already have a stake in what happens in their city. See what happens then.
But it’s also got to go beyond just elections.
Term limiters seem to think that the only way in which we can get involved in the political process is to run for office. In the end, a politician, regardless how good or bad a one, is only one person. That leaves pretty much everybody else on the outside, waiting their turn to run for office.
If Councillor McMahon truly wants to increase public engagement, why doesn’t she dedicate her efforts to expanding the role of the public’s participation at the community council level? Fight for ways to empower non-politicians in making decisions that affect them in their communities and neighbourhoods? There’s a push afoot for greater non-political involvement in budgetary matters. Get involved in that.
Not everyone was cut out to run for public office. Even if they were, there’d never be room enough for all at the table short of rotating out on a weekly or monthly basis. Being a politician is only a small part of our democracy. Let’s stop trying to jam everybody into that tiny box and, instead, figure out ways to increase the size of that box of civic engagement.
– finally submitted by Cityslikr